It’s the day when we take stock of how we’ve behaved, of our relationships, of our contributions, and we make amends, promise to do better, redirect.
It’s a day when our tradition tells us to go without drink or food, to focus serious attention on a personal inventory and a collective one, gathering in community for long hours of reverent service, set to music, to standing swaying prayer, to serious penitence.
It’s the one day every year when we get this serious and try to say sorry – to ourselves as well as to others. And of course, to God.
Last night at Kol Nidre, Rabbi Aaron Bergman asked whether all of our devices we cling to help us to connect or to disconnect. A good question, as he spoke about the greatest gift of our tradition: the Sabbath.
The one day every week when we are supposed to let go of rules and obligations and just BE. To be present with the most important people in our lives. To sit in the silence. To revel in it, in fact.
To enjoy warmly-prepared meals over a delightfully laden table, to gather as a community in the synagogue and in our homes, to separate from the workaday world and focus inward on what matters.
Yom Kippur, he said, is only significant because it is compared to a Shabbat, a Sabbath.
On this day when we atone for our sins and pledge to do better, it is important in its comparison to the most important holiday, which comes every Friday at sundown.
My eldest son is dedicated to doing the whole 25-hour fast. The rest of my kids could care less, and frankly, I don’t care much for fasting either. I can do it and I have done it, fervently, reverently, for many years.
Usually I don’t choose to because then the day becomes focused on food, or the lack thereof, and I would rather be freed from that burden to focus on the meaning.
But this year, I considered supporting my son’s efforts by fasting alongside him. We’ll see how it goes. I haven’t pledged to do the whole thing, but maybe I will. My reverence comes from the knowledge that we have choices.
Rabbi Bergman spoke about how we are zombie-like in our waking before the light and staying up well past the sunset, just to get things done. How we are slaves to modernity, pulled by our devices out of our relationships and into the illusion of one.
I would argue that our devices disconnect us more than they connect us. Think about Facebook: you think you are connecting with friends but really, do you know all of the people listed as your friends there?
Do they truly care when you feel blue? Do they show up with cake and party hats on your birthday? Or do they just wave from afar, lonely behind their computer screens or smart phones, clicking Happy Birthday and checking it off from their I’m-a-good-friend list.
And so on this important day, I wonder, what does it mean to truly connect?
To listen with a full heart to the woes of another. To pull someone close so you can smell their skin, and to let them see your tears rather than showing a stiff face to the crowds.
The warm hug, body pressed to body, cannot be felt through a device. And we cannot feel it as we sit alone in our rooms, mulling over the meaning of it all.
I actually hate this holiday of Yom Kippur because it is so serious and full of big ideas. When I was orthodox, there was an expectation that you would follow it to the letter – I remember rabbis telling pregnant women that they would be better off in bed all day, fasting, than to get out of bed, eat and drink, and gather in synagogue to pray.
I simply can’t be part of a world where the letter of the law is more important than its spirit.
I am trying to teach my children that religion and spirituality and observance are all about choices. The people we choose to surround ourselves with and the concepts we choose as worthy of observing.
At the end of the day, I want to shower the people around me with smiles and hugs and warm acceptance, because that is the kind of world I want to inhabit. I just don’t have the energy for a stern face and hatred in my heart. Because when hatred melts, we find the hurt holding it up.
Love can conquer anything. True acceptance and a kind commiseration with those around us. For we are human in our failings and that is what connects us as a community.
On this day, I wish everyone around me the kind of forgiveness they yearn for, knowing that it comes from within each of our hearts. I forgive myself. I turn a compassionate ear to my own yearnings and shortcomings. And from there, I can begin to repair the world and heal the tremors we all feel.
Some people break up the word atonement into at-one-ment. Let’s see if we can’t find that oneness in our hearts, and together.